I was sitting in Amy's living room with Amy and a former neighbor of hers, an old friend who was visiting for a few days. On TV was Nightline, and we were watching bits out of the Charles Gibson Sarah Palin interview.
The words just dropped out of my mouth: "This woman terrifies me."
Amy and her friend both looked at me. They didn't disagree. They were just surprised that I said what I said.
Thing was, I was surprised, too.
I've been thinking about Sarah Palin and the whole Palin effect kicked off by her speech at the RNC, and trying to figure it all out.
My thoughts here are based on three appearances: her acceptance speech at the convention, the Charles Gibson interview, and the recent Katie Couric interview.
I watched all three on YouTube.
First, I was thinking about the deep, mesmeric effect she seemed to have on a huge swath of the American public with her first, big speech at the Republican National Convention. The adulation seemed hugely at odds with the image she was presenting, somehow. I wondered how to explain it.
I thought then of Ronald Reagan, and the huge disjunction between his TV image--might as well say his screen image--and the words that were coming out of his mouth, especially at press conferences. This was one time where my predilection for radio listening served me well. Listening to a Reagan press conference on the radio, one could hear how disjoint and avoidant and rambling and generalized his answers were. . .and one was not caught up, riveted by his hypnotic ex-movie-star persona on the TV. To me, Reagan's backgroiund as an actor and his brilliantly practiced presentation of his visual image went a long way to him being dubbed "the great communicator."
So I thought: do we have here in Palin a kind of female Ronald Reagan?
But no. There is something else there. Something that was bothering me intensely. And it continues to bother me.
The rumors and backstories and chat spread like bad weeds. The library censorship story especially intrigued me. But I quickly learned that much of this was being embellished, made up, or conclusion-jumped in the blogosphere. (Even without the made-up parts, the raw dirty verifiable core of the library story sickens me.)
But what I was feeling about Palin was something different. I wanted to figure out why I had just blurted that out in my stepmother's living room, "this woman terrifies me." That was a visceral reaction to something. It felt instinctive. It felt animal.
So this has nothing to do with ideology or background or rumors or experience or any of that. It is strictly something I feel looking at her when she speaks.
She seems artificial, somehow.
She seems like someone who has carefully learned the words and the minutest of facial expressions, and she is putting on a show. There's nothing behind it. Or what's behind it is completely locked down, inaccessible.
She has a zombie-like quality.
More than all that, or maybe a clue to all that, she seems frighteningly humorless. She knows how to deliver a joke, sure, like her famous hockey mom/pit bull/lipstick comment. . . but watch that moment again, as I just did. Even this joke seems very controlled, very rehearsed, and like there is not really any good humor or jokiness behind it.
This is all massively subjective, but it is something I really perceive in watching this woman.
Earlier tonight I heard a woman from India, part of a roundtable discussion of American politics, and of Palin specifically, on the bbc. Twice or more she just casually referred to Palin as a "barbie doll." Just as part of her point, she used this expression. The moderator suggested that some people might be offended by such a label. But the Indian woman had said what she said not as some great revelation, but as something that was just the obvious image projected by Palin.
So, yeah, there is something oddly artificial about her.
One could say, I suppose, that she is just a very practiced speaker.
But doesn't a really practiced speaker use his or her own humanity as a selling point?
Maybe it is not that she is humorless. Maybe it is that she doesn't betray any weakness or humility. She is all polished and strident and smug.
That's why I veered away from the Ronald Reagan comparision (though I think there is still something in that.) Part of the Reagan persona was a kind of folksy self-deprecating humor. Whether part of his schtick or something more genuine, there was a definite humility there.
I don't see humility in Sarah Palin.
I don't get a feeling of self-criticism or self-examination from her.
She seems to be. . .and this goes for both her big public speech and her more intimate interviews. . .a woman without a shadow.
And I find that terrifying.